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We don't often think about the role that the scents we inhale play within our bodies. We may be vaguely or even acutely conscious of certain aromas, which can span the range from fresh, clean, light, flowery, spicy, earthy, or sweet to loamy, stale, musty, repulsive, putrid, nauseating, or just plain rotten. But does their effect go beyond the mere enjoyment or dislike of a particular scent?
Most definitely! Your sense of smell elicits powerful physiologic, mental, and emotional responses. This means that the aromatic molecules that your nose takes in can impact your mood, mental processing, outlook, and even the way your body's various systems function and interact with each other. I was once again amazed by the intelligent design of the human body when I really began to grasp the significant ways that aroma, particularly those emitted by essential oils, can influence my health and well being.
As volatile aromatic compounds, essential oils disperse into the air quickly. This volatility (or ability to change state quickly) allows the user to experience the aroma of an essential oil quickly and easily.
When you uncap a bottle of essential oil, the aromatic molecules are quickly absorbed by the smell receptors, which have a direct link to the brain’s limbic system by way of the olfactory nerve. The limbic system supports a variety of functions, including smell, emotions, behavior, learning, motivation, and memory. For this reason, the power of essential oils can be felt simply by inhaling them, thereby providing an opportunity for their aromatic molecules to interact with the chemical sensors of the brain. Some essential oils, for example, have uplifting or invigorating effects, while others are more calming, soothing, or relaxing.
A single essential oil has multiple — even approaching 100 — chemical constituents, each which contributes something to the therapeutic effect of the oil. Whether you need to stabilize your emotions, calm anxious feelings, promote feelings of motivation, or encourage relaxation, there is an essential oil with the perfect chemical components to help you manage your mood and achieve a desired result. As the aroma of an essential oil interacts with the chemical sensors in the brain, it will elicit a reaction— allowing the user to choose a specific oil to help produce a specific effect.
Mints: Uplifting, energizing, and cooling due to a high concentration of ketones. They support respiration and deeper breathing, including when we feel stressed or anxious. Mints support expansion and creativity, especially when we need a calm, clear mind. Reach for mints like spearmint and peppermint when you feel apathetic, insecure, or anxious.
Flowers: Typically composed of monoterpene alcohols, which have calming characteristics. They support love, friendship, and forgiveness, while soothing the heart and mind. Turn to floral oils — such as geranium, ylang ylang, lavender, or clary sage —when you need help lifting feelings of fear, worry, and hurt.
Trees, herbs, and grasses: These plants primarily fall into the sesquiterpine, oxide, and ester chemical families, which are frequently used to soothe the emotions, ground our spirits, and provide feelings of renewal. Want less sadness, discontentment, bitterness, and anger? Grab some sandalwood, cedarwood, vetiver, rosemary, or roman chamomile... there are SO many to choose from in this group!
Citruses: Contain chemical components like beta-pinene and d-limonene, which offer significant uplifting, refreshing, and cleansing qualities. Citrus scents bring joy the the heart and mind. Their essential oils help us get rid of discouragement, gloom, and distress. They encourage inspiration, fun, creativity, and self-expression, while bringing fresh, clear energy to a space.
Spices: Warming, invigorating, and inspiring. They are the exact opposite of somber, disinterested, or bored! Seek out cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove, or black pepper to rekindle feelings of excitement, passion and joy.
Background and theory aside, how does one use essential oils in real life to achieve these benefits? And if, like me, you're already overwhelmed with all you have to accomplish in a day, you're probably wondering if using them will take a lot of time or energy. Thank goodness that using essential oils is fast and easy!
SIMPLE WAYS TO INCORPORATE ESSENTIAL OILS INTO YOUR LIFE
Diffusion is one of the simplest methods for using essential oils aromatically. Diffusers come in a variety of different sizes, colors, and styles, so you can find a look the suites your décor and room size. Some of my favorites include:
However, using essential oils aromatically does not require any special diffusing devices. You can achieve the same health benefits by simply inhaling the aromatic molecules directly from an open bottle. Or by placing a couple drops of essential oil in the palm of your hand, rubbing your hands together, and cupping them around the nose as you breathe deeply.
Other ways to use essential oils aromatically:
In room or linen sprays: Mix essential oils in a spray bottle with water, vodka, or witch hazel and mist over furniture, carpets, or bed linens.
In a bath: Adding essential oils to warm bath water can provide the ultimate relaxing experience. It can also soothe sore muscles and joints. For adults, mix 5 - 10 drops of essential oil in a bowl with 1 tsp to 1 Tablespoon of a carrier oil (e.g., sweet almond, jojoba, apricot kernel, fractionated coconut oil). Then mix in 1 – 2 cups Epsom salts (or 1 oz Dead Sea or pink Himalayan salt) to disperse the oil throughout the water. This prevents it from pooling on top and causing skin irritation. Baking soda or apple cider vinegar are also great additions. Alternatively, here's a recipe for bath fizzies, which are fun for both kids and adults.
In the shower: Essential oils can also be used for respiratory benefit, relaxation, energizing, or emotional uplifting in the shower. Place 3 – 5 drops of oil directly on the shower floor (away from the spray) or in a glass bowl. Shower disks (usually made from oil and baking soda with essential oils dropped on them) are great as well. Wake yourself up while breathing more clearly!
In an inhaler: Inhalers are small, lightweight, and discrete. Carry them in your purse, bag, or pocket for quick physical or emotional support when on the go. These are also great to keep in your desk drawer at the office for a “pick-me-up” that does not impact those in adjoining cubicles. Search “aromatherapy inhaler” on Amazon for a variety of colors, styles, and materials. To make an inhaler, simply add 15 drops (10 for children) of essential oils to the cotton wick, place inside the inhaler body, and use as needed. For example, one could put together a personal inhaler for respiratory and immune support with 5 drops tea tree, 5 drops cedarwood, and 5 drops lavender.
Via steam inhalation: Add two drops of a respiratory clearing essential oil to a bowl of steaming water, placing head with closed eyes over the bowl, and draping a towel over the head to trap in the steam. Inhale deeply for several minutes.
In room salts: Room salts are beautiful small bowls of salts that can be used to naturally fragrance your favorite room while creating visual appeal. They allow a gentle aroma of essential oils to permeate the air when a light breeze crosses them. To make, place 2 Tablespoons of medium or course grain Sea Salt, Dead Sea Salt, Himalayan Salt, or other medium to chunky grain salts in a small glass bowl. Drizzle with 20 drops of an essential oil or blend. The salts will absorb the oils fairly quickly. That's it! Super simple, right? These bowls can be displayed and enjoyed anywhere in your house. At times when you want to benefit from a stronger aroma, simply pick one up, hold it beneath your nose, and inhale. Over time, the aroma of your salts will diminish. You can replenish the aroma by again drizzling more essential oils onto the salts.
On clay pottery: Another beautiful way to enjoy your essential oils is dropped onto pieces of terra cotta pottery that have been handcrafted into different decorative shapes. These low-tech diffusers are perfect for small spaces, such as bathrooms, your office, or the entryway into your home. Read this blog post from Aromahead Institute for an example of clay pottery designed for this purpose.
During yoga: Incorporating essential oils into your yoga practice — either through a diffuser or by placing a couple of drops on the corner of your mat — promotes relaxation, focus, grounding, or energy.
For cleaning: Make your own 100% natural, non-toxic household cleaners, such as sprays, scrubs, glass cleaner, foaming hand soaps, dish soap, laundry detergents, or stain removers. Virtually any type of cleaning product you are buying from the store can be made at home using readily available ingredients and essential oils. Inhaling oils while you are cleaning will simultaneously provide you with therapeutic benefits.
In the car: Apply a couple drops to a cotton ball and clip to the air vents of your vehicle. Car diffusers, such as this one, are now readily available as well.
In the trash: Stick a few drops of essential oil on a newspaper and place at the bottom of a trash can to help reduce unpleasant smells.
Do you have other great tips for using essential oils aromatically? I'd love to hear them! Leave me a comment, as I love discovering new ways to use the oils I have.
Hey! I'm Rachel! I dove into natural wellness after my health crashed in 2014. I'm on a mission to help you understand the ingredients in the products you use and show you how easy it is to exchange toxin-containing ones for things that support rather than burden your body. You'll find me growing microgreens, tending my urban garden, cooking whole food meals, hiking, foraging, and creating DIY skincare products.
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